Older Cancer Patients 'Denied Surgery'

A Cancer Charity Has Claimed Older People Are Being Denied Life-Saving Surgery


Macmillan Cancer Support has claimed that many people over the age of 75 are being denied potentially life-saving treatment for their malignancy.

Those who are over this age but are still in good health are five times less likely to be given life-saving treatments for lung cancer than younger people, according to the charity.

Macmillan is calling for wide-ranging improvements in how the NHS treats these patients, as England and Wales has the worst five-year lung cancer survival rates among over-75s in all of Europe.

The charity claims this is because doctors are being instructed to prescribe surgery based on age rather than physical fitness, even though the latter is a more important factor in survival rates for those undergoing operations to remove tumours.

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "I just cannot comprehend why healthy older lung cancer patients are given less life-saving surgery than younger patients, despite the fact that many could survive for years afterwards.

"It is deeply sad that our survival rates in this age group continue to lag behind Europe," he added.

Among those to criticise the NHS for its lack of action in offering treatment for older people with lung cancer was Sue O'Lone, 32, who claimed that when her 80-year-old grandmother was diagnosed with the condition in 2007, she was not given the proper level of therapy needed to overcome the illness.

"She was given no support, and no effort was put into her care. I really do feel they saw her as an old woman and they weren’t going to bother much," Ms O'Lone added.

The NHS is duty-bound to offer the best treatment possible to all patients, but is entitled to take into account physical frailty when making decisions about therapy. The part age plays in this process is less clear, as physical fitness and age are often linked - with older people less likely to be in a condition to be operated on.

Expert Opinion
The findings by Macmillan Cancer support have highlighted some serious questions over cancer surgery, particularly how decisions are made regarding operations in patients over 75 years old.

“All patients deserve the right to be given treatment which could potentially save their lives, regardless of their age.

“I hope the release of these findings leads the NHS to carefully consider the processes it has in place to ensure fair and consistent delivery of treatment based upon each individual patient’s needs.”
Lisa Jordan, Partner